It’s hard to imagine Barenaked Ladies — five men known for daring musical improvisations and occasional baring of genuine nakedness — being scared of much of anything.
But the group’s latest music business moves have the Canadian quintet a bit on edge.
After 15 years with Warner Bros. Records, the Ladies have stripped down its business operation and released its latest album — “Barenaked Ladies are Me” — on its own Desperation Records label.
“It’s totally empowering and liberating and all those great things,” says singer-guitarist Steven Page. “It really feels like we’re in charge of our own destiny.”
But, Page acknowledges that, “It’s also totally terrifying. Is anybody watching? Do people know? The (major label) machine we’re used to isn’t there anymore, so do people outside our core fan base know the things we used to be able to communicate?”
That said, BNL isn’t at all second-guessing its decision.
The group formed in 1988 in Toronto and began releasing albums four years later, when radio, MTV and over-the-counter sales were the industry’s primary vehicles. BNL built its following with heavy touring and occasional radio play — primarily for the still-popular “If I Had $1,000,000” — before blowing up in 1998 with the multi-platinum “Stunt” album and its chart-topping hit “One Week.”
Then the music industry blew up in an Internetinduced revolution, and BNL and its subsequent releases became victims of the fallout.
“We all know the whole business is in such upheaval,” says Page, 36. “The consumers have changed the rules, and the labels are spending all their time trying to change the rule book.
“We could sit on the periphery while the major labels continue to fi ght the way the business works. We could’ve gotten an OK deal. But we realized we could follow the consumers, actually follow the music fans, which meant we had to do it on our own.”
The good news is that BNL — Page, singer-guitarist Ed Robertson, multi-instrumentalist Kevin Hearn, bassist Jim Creeggan and drummer Tyler Stewart — had established the kind of passionate and loyal audience, not unlike the Grateful Dead’s Deadheads or Jimmy Buffett’s Parrotheads, that allowed them to do that. So the group’s focus now is feeding that targeted appetite.
BNL’s Web site is fi lled with everything from live concert recordings to bonus tracks to a 27-song deluxe edition of “Barenaked Ladies are Me,” although the additional 14 songs are slated to be released in January as “Barenaked Ladies are Men.”
“Albums are still important,” Page says of the new music world order, “but less as statements or concepts. As an art form, it was something that was imposed on us as artists by technology and what the industry was willing to do contractually with artists.
“Now there are so many options. Now you can recommend playlists — ‘Listen to this group of songs like this’ or ‘like that.’ Or, ‘Here’s a bunch of mellow ones,’ ‘Here’s all political themes ...’ I mean, can you imagine what Miles Davis could do if he made ‘Kind of Blue’ now and had these options. Holy ...”
The homespun and independent spirit of distributing the music also impacted on BNL as it made “Barenaked Ladies are Me,” which debuted at No. 17 on the Billboard 200 chart in September. Recorded at Fresh Baked Woods, a studio Page built at his cottage north of Toronto, the album is the first produced by the band, though it was assisted by longtime associate Susan Rogers.
Still, it’s unquestionably the vision of the band itself, which Page says was “finally ready” to take on that responsibility.
“Everybody’s the alpha Lady in a different way,” he explains. “I tend to be kind of big picture; ‘I want this song to sound like this. I want to have this feeling on it.’ Ed will work with Tyler and Jim on getting the groove just right.
“And Jim Creeggan is amazing at the minutia, all the thankless tasks of listening to take after take and picking them apart and all the string arrangements and things.”
Page says he was “a little worried” about how the division of labor would sort itself out.
“It’s a recipe for confl ict, sometimes,” he notes.
But he adds that he and his bandmates have all “learned to let go” in order to let others do what they’re best at, and that, in turn, made everyone feel even better with the results.
“It was our money, our time — we had no timeline except for our own,” Page says. “Because of that, everybody naturally felt a sense of ownership and was more willing and more trusting of each other. This was truly our record, which felt really, really good.”
Barenaked Ladies and Mike Doughty’s Band perform 7:30 p.m. Friday (October 27th) at The Palace, Lapeer Road at I-75, Auburn Hills. Tickets are $30-$45. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit
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